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A Report on the First International Workshop on Research Methods in Animal-Computer Interaction

Zamansky, A., Roshier, A,. Mancini, C., Collins, E., Hall, C., Grillaert, K., Morrison, A., North, S., and Wirman, H.,(2017). A Report on the First International Workshop on Research Methods in Animal-Computer Interaction. In: Proceedings of International Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI’17, 6th-11 May 2017, Denver, Colorado, USA.

This paper reviews a series of presentations from leading researchers in Animal-Computer Interaction and tracks synergies in their research methodologies to track emerging best practice. As a workshop it summarises a series of existing research, most of which has already been read and logged, but is a clear snapshot of the current state of the discipline. The paper, and researchers present, call for a mixed method which needs to draw on a range of disciplines, research methodologies and expert interventions to develop new knowledge. This new method could work well with John Laws work on methodology and complexity. There is little new research, but this paper consolidates a wide range of existing research and documents the current discourses in the discipline.

Key Quotes 

“ACI has the potential to significantly expand the boundaries of HCI under broader theoretical and methodological frameworks, by focusing on users who require interfaces that do not assume what we call ‘language’, and whose cognitive characteristics and natural behavior place hard methodological constraints on the design and evaluation of such interfaces.” (p2)

“design (whether for human or nonhuman animals) is never perfect nor finished; instead, it is an iterative process that progresses by incremental approximations to the best possible solutions; thus, carefully attending to the process in ACI is perhaps more important than focusing on achieving one final outcome.” (p3)

“the focus on `user’ assumes a clear task (or functionality) at hand, which is not always the case for animals. Furthermore, there is a fundamental difference, or otherness between the designer and user, which is further enhanced by the fact that the designer cannot just ask the user what he wants, as one would do with humans.” (p3)

“Wirman concluded that due to the challenges posed by the unique environment of the project, research becomes pragmatically cross-disciplinary, an eclectic mixture of methods. One must also accept the fact that sometimes there are no clear methods to apply, but one needs to explore and experiment instead. Finally, in our choice of methods we must always respect the difference between us and animals.” (p3)

“the need to develop partnerships with relevant stakeholders, and in particular she had discovered that many ACI projects appear to lack input from those with animal science/welfare expertise. Such guidance is invaluable for the successful implementation and evaluation of many ACI projects; but most importantly to support animal welfare.” (p4)

“the horse, as a prey species is a neo-phobic animal that flees from potential danger and has a strong flight / fight response. Care must be taken to introduce any new technology in an animal-friendly way. The potential fear of the human element should also not be forgotten, particularly when dealing with animals that are unfamiliar with human interaction.” (p5)

“The thing to avoid is researcher self-deception, also known as the unconscious projection of personal design priorities and enthusiasms onto ‘voiceless’ co-designers. Things to embrace: methodologies that genuinely elicit animals’ requirements and their responses to our technological solutions.” (p5)

“we need to embrace the ‘otherness’ of animals and apply techniques to enhance empathy with animals by putting ourselves in their place. As a technique to do that, he described the use of ‘design fiction’, in the early stages of requirement elicitation” (p5)

“amalgamating quantitative (ethology) and qualitative (ethnography) methods into what he termed ‘ethographology’ (describing and studying the fundamental behaviour of a species. Challenging anthropocentric assumptions and the hybrid methodology may help us to avoid unconsciously projecting our personal design priorities and enthusiasms onto users.” (p5)

“most research approaches and methods employed in ACI are borrowed from HCI, such as user-centric design, participatory design, etc. However, these need to be appropriately adapted to the context of ACI, taking into account interspecies differences and communication barriers.” (p6)

“From the perspective of behavioral science, it is important to take full account of the ecological niche and innate behavioural tendencies, perceptual abilities, and social needs of the species in question, and the impact that past human interactions (and other experiences) may have on an individual animal. In addition, the size and shape (anatomy) of the species and the age of the individual animal must be taken into account.” (p7)

“ACI needs to consider apparatus and experimental design from the animal’s point of view.” (p7)

“A suggestion was made to use a Delphi method, when developing technologies intended for animals, relying on opinions of a group of experts, including experts in animal welfare, animal behaviorists, ACI researchers, as well as potentially also representatives of other disciplines.” (p7)

“There is therefore a need to develop a balanced approach, supplementing data gathered by ACI researchers with insights from professionals working with animals (and assisting when conflicting approaches can complicate best-case solutions), as well as from individuals looking for solutions for their animals.” (p7)

“all agreed that ACI is closely related to HCI and is using or making reference to some of its theoretical frameworks and research methodologies” (p8)

Further Reading

Wirman, H., Smits, W., Yu, G., and Yuen, W. “Defeated by an orangutan? Approaching cross-species gameplay.” In Think Design Play–5th International DiGRA Conference, Utrecht School of the Arts, Utrecht, September, pp. 14-17. 2011.

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